RIDGWAY – Janet Smith, known to friends as Planet Janet, battled the town government a few years ago over roosters in her Clinton Street backyard. Now she wants to be Ridgway’s mayor.
Smith first came to Ridgway in 2001 to do a winter hut trip. Like a lot of people, she was intrigued and decided to return permanently. “I always thought I wanted to live in a university town,” she said recently. “I’d spent the previous 15 years as a chemical engineer in Laramie, Wyo. But here were people dogsledding, people burning wood, people skiing into their homes. People were living differently.”
That difference is at the core of Smith’s vision for Ridgway’s future.
“I feel I have something to offer this town. I want to invest in this community, create a platform to look ahead.”
Smith credits her engineering background with giving her a “basis for all decision making.” She also worked for a time following college at Iowa State University in a plant that reprocessed nuclear fuels. “That industry taught me forward thinking, consequences. The need to be prepared. We are in some ways unprepared now. We’re being handed some things that I’m not sure we’re prepared for. Are we prepared if the dollar continues to devalue? Are we prepared for $5 gas? Are we prepared to lose our water supply, or have a salmonella outbreak like they had in Alamosa? How do we flow through these interruptions? We have to have diversity in infrastructure, back-up systems.”
Smith would like to see Ridgway become “a demonstration town” for the transition she believes must occur away from fossil fuels and consumerism and toward something more local and sustainable.
“Eighty-three percent of the people in this town [according to a town planning survey] say they want sustainability.” Transition, Smith says, is “a beautiful goal. It fits with our rural community. But I don’t just want committees discussing it; I want action.”
Smith’s current focus is on food. She grows a lot of her own food in her in-town backyard. And she has appeared recently before town council to promote her idea of raising ducks for food on the Uncompahgre River in town.
“There’s a renewable energy that has not been classified: food. Let’s define it as a renewable energy. Everybody can participate in it. Some people can contribute money, some can contribute garden space, some can contribute their hands.”
I asked Smith, given her experience in the nuclear industry, whether or not she could see nuclear power as one puzzle piece in the bigger picture to reducing greenhouse gasses. She reprimanded me for “reductionist thinking – just looking at the parts. We need a systems approach to our problems,” she said. “Growth and thought has to be part of it. Re-evaluation. Re-evaluate our needs. We have to bring it home. I’m interested in positive options that people have.”
“It’s a paradox,” she said of our energy consumption (with no intended reference to West End uranium). “We want our cake and eat it, too. But it’s not just the needs of the person; it’s the needs of the planet.”
On the rooster debacle (the crowing of Smith’s roosters had generated complaints from neighbors), Smith accuses the town of passing an ordinance “directed at one individual” – her. But she has moved on. “It’s not about winning and losing,” she said. “It’s we need to understand what is hurting us from transitioning. We need to ask questions about our regulations and laws and whether they meet our future needs. Do they intimidate us as a community? Do they inhibit our change going forward?
“I want to be a spark plug,” Smith concluded. “I want to have a thriving, vibrant community bringing positive attitude back to this community. I’m totally optimistic. I want to plant a seed: a literal tree, food, a plant, an idea. Not for fighting, but for growth.
“I’ve got a record of standing up for what I believe in. And I can attract people to this town with my ideas.”
The election is April 3. Smith is on the ballot opposite Mayor Pro Tem John Clark.